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Camden wanted to ‘quietly’ set up Haringey-style development deal, Greens claim

Labour accuse Sian Berry of not supporting its attempts to invest in homes and schools

24 April, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Sian Berry, with Caroline Lucas and fellow election candidates, is in a fight for survival in the Highgate ward

CAMDEN Labour wanted to “quietly” set up a Haringey-style property deal for its lucrative portfolio of council-owned land, the Greens have claimed.

Councillor Sian Berry said she helped stop a similar development scheme to the plans which tore the Labour Party apart in the neighbouring borough and led to protests on the Town Hall steps. 

The Labour-run council in Haringey had lined up a deal with developers Lendlease aimed at paying for a large scale regeneration scheme by going into a 50/50 deal. Known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HD),  supporters said it was a pragmatic way to fund new and improved homes at a time of slashed budgets, while opponents argued it was a surrender of public land without the explicit support of tenants which should have been sought through a ballot.

The scheme has since been axed from the Labour’s manifesto in Haringey and, amid well-publicised disputes, leader Claire Kober announced she was stepping down from the council.

Camden backed away from following a similar policy when it came up for discussion last year, and Cllr Berry claims this was because she was there to scrutinise Labour’s movements.

With the ruling party aiming for a record win at next week’s council elections as Labour targets gains in at least four wards across the borough, Cllr Berry was asked to pinpoint where she felt Camden had failed over the last four years in charge.

Speaking at the party’s manifesto launch in Highgate on Thursday, she said the Community Investment Programme (CIP), the council’s flagship policy of levering in investment for new housing and schools with its high value land and property, had failed to secure a decent share of new council homes.

Cllr Berry said: “I think the CIP is the main thing because they are stuck in this old model of needing to use loads and loads of private sales to subsidise building a few council homes, and by knocking too many down the net gain is really minimal and they are alienating a lot of their residents in the process. The reason I picked this up in Camden is that people in Gospel Oak were begging me to. They were really frustrated.”

She added: “They’ve got a massive programme in Gospel Oak and they’ve started off with a bit of infill on an old depot site, so they’ve not demolished any homes to build that. But the next phase, the Bacton redevelopment, is turning out at something like nine percent net gain of council homes and they are putting loads and loads and loads of private homes in there to do that.”

Labour see the CIP as a shining example of how the council has faced investment challenges at a time when funding has been cut by central government and a borrowing cap for local authorities has remained in place.

But Cllr Berry said: “They [the council] are acting like a private developer. So although they haven’t privatised – that was the mistake they were about to make. If there had been no opposition saying ‘hang on a minute, what’s this secret working group, what’s option one doing in there, that’s basically the HDV [Haringey Development Vehicle]’,  I think they would have pushed that through quietly and we’d have been in exactly the same position as Haringey.”

Cllr Berry who also sits on the London Assembly is Camden’s only Green councillor in a council chamber where Labour holds a 24-seat majority. The Greens argue that the ruling party’s lead is unhealthy for democracy and voters should step carefully before opting for a Labour councillor obedient to the party’s whip..

The contest in her Highgate ward grew tetchier this week when Labour rivals accused her of being against investment in new homes and schools due to her criticism of the CIP.  At one stage, Cllr Berry claimed comments made by Labour councillors were “actionable”. She has also faced claims that the Greens cannot claim to be a left-wing party while trying to court votes from the Conservatives in the see-saw ward.

Labour holds two seats in the ward, although sitting councillor Sally Gimson is not standing again. Cllr Berry was only 75 votes clear in 2014 as Labour looked to win a clean sweep of councillors in Highgate.

“Without us you would have had a HDV, and I think that’s why you need us,” said Cllr Berry, adding that rise of Jeremy Corbyn as the national leader of Labour Party did not reflect how things were run at the Town Hall.

She said: “Labour are not that much under new management [in Camden] are they? You know that. It’s kind of the same crowd here in control of Labour.”

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